Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Brewster

There is always a little part of me that considers Brewster my home station. It was from here that I took my first Metro-North train. I even ran away from home once – I managed to get to Brewster and hopped on a train. When I first started my job out of college I made the 25-mile trek from my parents’ house in Connecticut over to Brewster every morning and evening. I always loved the little station building, and remember it prior to the renovations made for the added cafe. At that time the ticket window was moved to the other side of the room, where it still is currently. Though many ticket windows have closed, the one in Brewster remains.

Historically Brewster was always an important part of the Harlem Valley. The New York and Putnam Railroad (later, the Putnam Division) met with the Harlem at Brewster (Putnam Junction). There was once a turntable and roundhouse where steam engines could be serviced, but was removed when that technology became obsolete. The Brewster Standard, a local newspaper, even called Brewster “the hub of the Harlem Valley.” The name of the station derives from Walter Brewster, who owned the farmland the original station was built on, and many early maps refer to the stop as “Brewster’s.” Gail Borden had a condensed milk factory in the town (in addition to the one also on the Harlem in Wassaic) and on your way to the station you’ll probably pass over the Borden Bridge, where his condensed milk crossed and headed out to the Union troops in the Civil War.

Today Brewster is still an important station, and gets many passengers from across the state lines. Despite the usage it remains a small station and the platform can only accommodate four train cars. The old station building houses a small cafe called “The Dining Car” and a ticket window. Despite having been to Brewster a million times, I had never photographed it until July. I visited on a scorching-hot Saturday in July when the sky was a beautiful blue…









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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Southeast

Not counting Grand Central, the Harlem Line has 37 different stations. Some of them, like Harlem-125th Street, and Fordham, are shared with other lines, but I still count them in that number. So far, I’ve been to 32 of those stations. The inevitable fact of the matter is that although there are a lot of interesting stations – located in nice areas, have historical station buildings, or have some sort of art – not every station is going to be incredibly intriguing. As I post these photos today, I seem to think this is the case with Southeast. The most interesting thing about the station is the yard nearby, but even that isn’t tremendously interesting, and there are better train watching spots on the line.

The station of Brewster North was built in the early 80’s by Metro-North, and has been the final stop on the Harlem’s electrified line. If you’re not lucky enough to be on an express train, it is here you’ll need to swap to a shuttle train for the rest of your journey to the Upper Harlem. Due to confusion with commuters, and a request by the town of Southeast, Brewster North was renamed Southeast in 2003. Southeast is one of the more busy stations on the Harlem Line, and gets commuters from all over the area, including Connecticut.

One of the reasons Southeast is so popular is due to the large parking lot, which can fit more than a thousand cars. This is how I’ve come to know Southeast – growing up my family would always cross the border into New York and take the train to the city, usually from Brewster. But Brewster’s parking lot isn’t the largest, and if it were a weekday we’d always go over to Southeast where there was more parking available. My dad still calls it Brewster North, and I don’t even try correcting him anymore… I know he’ll never remember!






…and I guarantee you if he were to see those pictures, he would ask me, where the heck is Southeast??

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Lettie Carson, and Old Posters from the Harlem Valley Transportation Association

Reading all about the history of the Harlem Line intrigues me. It was New York City’s first railroad, chartered in 1831, and an early example of a rail horsecar in the United States. As in every story, there are always intriguing characters. People like Cornelius Vanderbilt certainly stand out. But for me I think one rarely mentioned woman stands out the most. Her name is Lettie Carson, and she fought to prevent the closure of the Upper Harlem, a David against Penn Central’s Goliath. As we all know that the Harlem does not extend to Chatham anymore, unfortunately her plight failed, but her story still captivates me.

Lettie Gay was born in Pike County, Illinois in 1901, the youngest of nine children. On the family farm she helped raised livestock of every variety. It may be this upbringing that gave Carson her independent attitude. At age eight she would drive a horse and buggy fifteen miles to the train station to pick up her brother. In the early 1920’s she moved east to the New York area, and in 1924 married Gerald Carson. She held various jobs, including as food editor of Parents’ Magazine. She and her husband had a weekend home in Millerton, along the Harlem Line, which they retired to and became permanent residents in 1951.

If you’re on the north end of the Harlem Line you may be aware of Lettie Carson’s work without knowing it. In 1958 she helped create the Mid-Hudson Library System, which today has more than 80 member libraries across five counties. Brewster, Dover Plains, Mahopac, Patterson, Pawling, Poughkeepsie, and Chatham are a few of the towns whose libraries are members. Carson served as president of the Mid-Hudson for two years, and was on the board for eight.

Lettie Gay Carson later became associated with the Harlem Valley Transportation Association, as vice president, and then as president. The organization was formed in the early 60’s when the New York Central threatened to abandon passenger service on the Upper Harlem. When Penn Central took over they too wanted to end passenger service north of Brewster. The HVTA fought them for many years through demonstrations, public hearings, and in the courts. Ultimately the passenger service was abandoned north of Dover Plains in March of 1972, though the HVTA continued to fight for freight on the line. Eventually that too was abandoned, and the track was ripped out.

Through my research I managed to unearth some of the HVTA’s old documents: papers, posters, surveys and more. I’ve digitally restored some of them for posterity. Below are four of the HVTA’s early posters, as well as their logo and letterhead.




Later in life Carson moved to Pennsylvania, where she too attempted to protect rail service in and around Philadelphia. She died in March of 1992, at age 91.

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Conversations With My Neighbor: Fireman for the New York Central

It has been my opinion for quite a while that my house ought to be a reality TV show. Not far from Goldens Bridge train station, we roommates met via Craigslist. We currently have three people in the house, but in the past have had four. And one dog. Her name is Kaylee, and she weighs almost as much as me. Correction, she weighs nearly what I weighed before I got a job that provided me enough money for my junk food and Coca-cola addiction. The fourth roommate, and there have been two, has always been the smelly one – whether it be from not washing, or from smoking a million packs a day. The first two formed a band that frequently makes noise in our basement, which if you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably heard about. They are also dating off and on. If I had a dollar for every time they broke up and she moved out, only for her to move back in not soon after, I’d be rich. They are currently together, but by the time the next train arrives in Goldens Bridge, who knows…

In a strange coincidence during one of those breakups, the two got into a fight outside. He threw a CD at her, but was off the mark and it flew into the neighbor’s yard. And they forgot about it. Several days later the neighbor shows up, CD in hand, returning what they must have “lost”. In the chatter that followed during this encounter, my roommate discovered that the neighbor once worked for the railroad, back when they still used steam on the Harlem Line. When my roommate told me about it, I knew I had to speak to this man. And so, one afternoon while walking the dog, I spotted him outside on the porch and said hello.


The man on the left is my neighbor, John

My neighbor certainly has an intresting viewpoint in regards to the history of the Harlem line. He witnessed the final years of steam on the line, and the trains that replaced them. He was a Fireman, while that position still existed, anyway. He told me he’d put water in the boiler in the engine in Goldens Bridge that would run to Mahopac, and then on break, would walk to his house, have a sandwich and tend to the plants in his garden. It was one of the many jobs he had over the years, including working in Chatham, Dover Plains, Brewster and Goldens Bridge. Occasional winters were spent working on the Maybrook Line in Danbury and Hopewell Junction. Besides seeing the end of steam, he witnessed the transition from the New York Central to Penn Central, Conrail, and Metro North, until finally retiring in 1991.


The above photos of his are of the Empire State Express no. 999, taken in Chatham in 1952

We always thought we’d lose the passengers. We never thought we’d lose the freight…

John motions to his wife, telling me how she hates how he always says this. It is hard for him to understand the state of matters today, shipping everything by truck. Trains were so much more efficient, he says. Watching the news every morning, the traffic reports show cameras of the traffic on every bridge going into the city, with traffic backed up for miles… and plenty of box trucks in wait. He muses about how everything has changed. Everything today is technology based…

“It was boring…” he said of being an engineer today. He turns to look at me with his weathered face, but his light blue eyes are still bright. He tells me that having good eyes was essential for working on the railroad. When starting out he had to undergo various vision tests, to have the vision to see a signal light from a mile away. To see in fog, and to see through your peripheral vision. It baffled him to see people working for Metro North, people that wore glasses. Because now, you didn’t need to see signals outside, everything was in the cab. Having perfect vision isn’t a necessity as it once was. Although hiring a more diverse workforce, in both gender and color, was a new thing, seeing the people wearing glasses seemed like it was harder to get used to for him.

He refers to himself as an “old timer” and says that most of the people he worked with weren’t really interested in his stories. I think he finds it amusing that someone is so interested in them, especially a young female. But that is hardly the first time I’ve heard that before. Some of the things he told me were not stories in their entirety, but quick smatterings of thoughts and memories. Comparing distractions of cell phones today, to people he recalled watching baseball games on portable televisions long ago. People that would throw rocks and bottles at the train, and how he once got a “face full of glass” – an event he didn’t care much to elaborate on. Stories he heard from the “old timers” of his day, of bootleggers during prohibition, and people that smuggled out Canadian ale on the trains. And when I asked about uniforms, he told me of others on cleaner trains that wore suits to work, suits with inner pockets where flasks could be hidden.


More photos from my neighbor’s collection

For 43 years my neighbor worked for the railroad, though he mentioned another family member that had a record, close to 50 years of service to the rail. His daughter and son both work for Metro North, in North White Plains, and over on the Hudson Line. Despite living next door, I don’t see the man much. He spends part of his time at a house upstate, and when he happens to be in Goldens Bridge, he often sits outside, on the porch hidden by bushes. But every time I walk by, mostly on the way to or from the train station, I look over to see if he is hidden behind those plants. Because even though our conversations have been few, they’ve always been most interesting.

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Friday’s From the Historical Archive: Old Maps and Station Names

Some of the very first things that were added when I created the Historical Archives were maps I found thanks to the Library of Congress. It was interesting to see the network of railroads in the country grow in size exponentially through the 1800’s, and then later in the mid 1900’s crash and quite a few disappeared. There was one map, however, that caught my attention.

That map lists a station along the Harlem Line: Golding’s Bridge. Was it a typo? In the back of my mind I had always wondered about the apostrophe thing. Is Goldens Bridge written properly with an apostrophe, or without? And now, a new question. What is Golding’s Bridge? For whom was the town named, and does the bridge still exist? Why are other stations on this map, or other maps also listed with apostrophes? Brewster’s, Pawling’s? The map also lists quite a few stations that have different names today, such as Hart’s Corners, Whitlockville, and Bains.

In my endeavor to find the answer to at least the apostrophe question, I consulted with the town historian of Lewisboro, of which Goldens Bridge is a part of. She unfortunately told me that she could only “add to the confusion.”

I’m not exactly sure where the original bridge that gave your hamlet its name first stood, but it spanned the Croton River, which is now under the reservoir. The bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names. That bridge had to have been an important crossing to get to what is now Somers, and points west. It most certainly dates to the Revolution or before.

In 2003, Metro North dropped the apostrophe from the name of the station. Almost all official timetables and signage refer to the station as Goldens Bridge. However, old signage with the apostrophe does still exist. The station listing on M-7 trains still has the apostrophe. Most official town signage also does not have the apostrophe. However the Fire Department for the town still uses it. Google maps still uses it. It is a name still in transition.

Many towns and names along the Harlem Line went through similar transitions. Spellings were changed, apostrophes were dropped. Brewster’s and Pawling’s are both evidence of that. Some names changed completely. So let’s take a little tour through the area and see how some of these names came to be, shall we?

Bronx – Named for Jonas Bronck, who purchased the land in 1639. Originally known as The Bronck’s, in reference to the family, at some point over time the spelling evolved into the current form.
Mott Haven – Named for Jordan Mott, who had an ironworks that opened in 1828. He purchased the land from the Morris family.
Morrisania – Named for the Morris family. Lewis Morris was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Gouverneur Morris was also a prominent member of that family.
Woodlawn – Originally two words, but was condensed into one by 1870.
Mount Vernon – Named for George Washington’s home. Original name was Hunt’s Bridge.
Fleetwood – Named for the ancestral home of John Stevens.
Scarsdale – Named for the ancestral home of Caleb Heathcote.
Hartsdale – Named after Eleazar Hart, who donated the land. Was previously known as Hart’s Corners.
Bedford Hills – Originally named only Bedford, the Hills was added to the name in 1910.
Katonah – Had several previous names, first was Mechanicsville. Later changed to Whitlockville in 1830, for the Whitlock family. Later renamed Katonah from the native word Ketatonah, which translates to Great Mountain.
Purdys – Named for Daniel Pardieus, his grandson Isaac donated the land to the railroad in 1844.
Brewster – Named for brothers James and Walter Brewster, and at the time was known as Brewster’s.
Dykemans – Named for Joseph Dykeman.
Patterson – Named for Matthew Paterson, older maps list the name with only one ‘t’
Pawling – Named for the Paulding (possibly Pauling) family.
Wingdale – Named for the Wing family. Jackson Wing operated an Inn which opened in 1806. Previous names include Wing’s Station, and South Dover.
Harlem Valley – Wingdale – Harlem Valley comes from the name of the railroad (New York & Harlem). Used to be two stops, State Hospital (actual name of the hospital was Harlem Valley State Hospital) and Wingdale (mentioned above). Wingdale station was eliminated, and later Metro-North combined the two and the name.
Millerton – named for Sydney G. Miller, who was an engineer and contractor for the construction between Dover Plains and Chatham.
Craryville – Named for Peter Crary. Station was previously known as Bains, or Bains Corners for hotel owner Peter Bain.
Martindale – Named for John Martin.
Philmont – Previous name was Phillips Mountain, but was later condensed into Philmont. Named for George Phillips, who built a dam and a mill in the area.
Chatham – Named for Lord Pitts, Earl of Chatham, England.

That list does not mention every station on the current Harlem Line, or the rail line in the past. I am specifically mentioning stations that were named after people, or had a name change of some sort. Apostrophes in names often originated because the land was named after, or originally belonged, to a specific family or person.

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Delays and busing on the Harlem Line today

Just in case you aren’t paying attention to my posts over on Twitter, the Harlem Line has some big delays today. Around two hours ago, there were 15–20 minute delays between North White Plains and Wassaic due to trees fouling the tracks near Hawthorne. The issues with downed trees got bad enough that about an hour ago service was suspended in both directions from North White Plains to Brewster. The newest update from Metro North is that there will be continued delays in both directions, and passengers will be bused between Pleasantville and Mount Kisco. If you are going to be riding the trains this afternoon, Metro North’s Train Time may be helpful. If you aren’t already, signing up for MTA alerts is also a good idea. I of course will be reposting those alerts on twitter whenever they become available. (Even though Metro North has a twitter account now, they don’t seem to be posting that information there).

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Walk for Peace at Brewster Train Station, Thursday 10/15

So I happened to encounter an article that was in Danbury’s News-Times this morning, regarding an event happening tomorrow (Thursday) at the Brewster train station. The event is a Prayer Vigil and Walk for Peace, concerning immigration reform in the United States. I’m seriously one of the last people to be advertising anything that contains the word “prayer” in it, but I must admit I found the article interesting.

If you’ve taken the train from Brewster, you know there are many immigrants, and probably also many illegal immigrants in the area. I mentioned in a previous post of a past incident where I took the train from Brewster, and while standing in the crosswalk waiting to go to the station, a man stopped for me and shouted out his window, “’ll only stop for you because you’re a white girl!” It was obvious what he was referencing… I was not one of “those immigrant people” that frequent the area around the station.

I certainly thought that the people of Brewster will remember the incident that happened in June, where a mother and her eight-year-old daughter were killed outside a dance studio in Brewster. A drunken, unlicensed and illegal Guatemalan immigrant driving a truck plowed into the two, killing them. Just searching for a link to this story, I find so much hatred, like this gem:

I volunteer to feed this piece of garbage into a wood chipper alive with his hands taped to his ankles

These animals must be dealt with. If the government does not do something, someone will.

But as the article states, think of Diane Schuler, the driver in a deadly incident on the Taconic Parkway. Investigators found this American citizen to be both drunk and high, and driving on the wrong side of the road. Eight people lost their lives in that crash, several of them young children. In incidents like these, maybe one should not be blaming illegal immigrants, but drunken drivers.

And with all this hate, maybe a place like Brewster does need an event like this.

Prayer Vigil and Walk for Peace in our Community
Thursday, October 15, 2009, 7PM
Metro North Railroad Station, Brewster, NY
For more information call 845-225-4698
or e-mail Charlieg424@comcast.net

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Radio Repairman Returns! And a bunch of random memories…

The other day I caught sight of the amusing radio repairman that I dubbed Bob in a previous entry… he was carrying a plate of food, and thankfully didn’t get into any awkward conversations with anyone. He did get up and go to the little conductor vestibule, and got on his hands and knees and looked under the door, and through the window in order to see if anyone was in there. Alas, nobody was. He returned to his seat, shouted out “Mount Kisco!” for no apparent reason a few times, and then got off the train.

Here are a bunch of other random memories that have come to mind recently… some are new and some are old!

While eating lunch at a place across the street from the Valhalla train station, I heard a trio of blondes get into a very heated discussion about dog food.
“You can’t buy your dog Kibbles and Bits, it is BAD!”
“What do you mean, BAD?”
“It is just bad, Iams is better. You get it from the pet store.”
“But why is Iams better?”
“Well, the lady said that giving your dog Kibbles and Bits, is like eating at MCDONALD’S every day! It is FAST FOOD for dogs!”
“Oh, well I wish they would write that on the label then!”

I also kind of hate to admit it, but there are often some “racist incidents” that happen on the train. While walking to the Brewster train station, I stood in the crosswalk waiting for the cars to go by. It is starting to get warmer, so people have their windows down… and the man shouted out the window at me, “I’ll only stop for you because you’re a white girl!” If you’ve ever been to Brewster, you might have an idea of why this disgruntled man made this comment.

A recent article I read talks about convicts traveling by Greyhound bus. I’ve certainly commented about that in this blog. Greyhound feigns ignorance, but I could have told them that ages ago after taking a 30 day cross country trip via Greyhound. Many people talked about being in prison, leaving prison, etc. Now if it were me, I wouldn’t be telling a bunch of random people on the bus about being a felon or anything like that. So you must imagine for each person that told everyone about their criminal past, there might have been quite a few others keeping their mouths shut!

Don’t get lost in Boston. The cops you might ask for directions from aren’t the most helpful. While traveling with several other girls, we were looking for a place on Channel St. The policeman we asked made it a point to inform us that we were stupid girls and that we were looking for “CHANNEL and not CHANEL.” Yes, because Chanel is ALL we think about.

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Have You Ever Gotten On The Wrong Train?

On the train home this evening, I sat next to a woman who after one stop, turned to me and asked, “Is this train going to New York?” Unfortunately it wasn’t. She had gotten on the wrong train.

It made me think back to a few times when I got on the wrong train. When I first started commuting to work, I got on a train in Brewster that apparently went express after a few stops and didn’t stop at White Plains. For the record, that was the first and only time I had ever been on a Harlem Line train that did not make a stop there. I was lucky enough to have a really nice conductor… he stopped the express train at White Plains just so I could get off. People at work joked around, if I looked more like my age or older (as opposed to looking like a 15-year-old or something) would he have still done the same thing?

Another time I got on the wrong train was when I was riding the Long Island Railroad from Northport station. Northport has only one track, so unless you are observant and notice the direction the train pulls into the station, you don’t necessarily know in which direction it will be heading. I arrived at the station exactly at the time my train was supposed to leave. There was a train on the tracks waiting, and my friend who dropped me off was like, “Run! You can catch it!” I ran my little ass off and did in fact catch it… Only to find out as the doors closed that the train was heading to Port Jefferson, as opposed to Penn Station. My train was late, and was waiting on an other track outside the station for this train to leave so it could pull up. I managed to get off at King’s Park, the next station…

I didn’t, nor do I even now know where the hell King’s Park is, but I knew I certainly didn’t want to be there. I think this was back before I had a cell phone, so I was looking for a telephone booth to call my friend for help. A scruffy looking old man stood in front of the phone booth. By the time I awkwardly got him to move away from it, I saw that the phone receiver had been cut off by a vandal, and there was just a wire hanging where it should have been. Yeah, that was a spectacular afternoon.

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Suffocating Your Baby…

While waiting on the platform, I noticed a woman acting a little strangely while pushing a baby carriage. Not like, strange enough to call the police or something, but just odd. She was pushing the carriage, but it was covered over with a large blanket. If a kid was inside, it would have been suffocating. Every couple of minutes, she would kneel down over the carriage, lift the flap, stick her head inside, and talk. Actually, thinking back, it was pretty damn weird. You see those “See Something, Say Something” posters everywhere, and that was kinda suspicious…

Once we got on the train though, I did happen to notice that the woman wasn’t talking to a bomb or anything like that… she was attempting to conceal a cat strapped into the baby carriage.

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